Montreal Screwjob

From Academic Kids

The Montreal Screwjob is professional wrestling parlance for a genuine, unscripted incident that took place on November 9, 1997, during a match for the WWF Championship between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Contents

History

In October 1996, Bret Hart signed an unprecedented 20-year contract with the WWF after considering, then rejecting, a very lucrative offer from the WWF's main rival, World Championship Wrestling. Hart had been with the WWF since 1985, and had emerged from wrestling mainly in tag teams to become a popular and respected singles star. Between 1991 and 1996, Hart won the WWF's World Title four times and the Intercontinental Title twice. He also won the 1993 King Of The Ring tournament and was joint winner of the 1994 Royal Rumble alongside Lex Luger. The contract he signed in 1996 called for him to wrestle three more years with the WWF and then complete his career in a behind-the-scenes writing and booking position. Both sides felt that it was a suitable and appropriate expression of Hart's loyalty to the WWF and its loyalty to him.

However, by the middle of 1997, the WWF was in serious financial straits, due mainly to WCW taking over as North America's #1 pro wrestling promotion. WWF owner and chairman Vince McMahon informed Hart that he wished to withdraw from the contract and he encouraged him to again seek employment with WCW. However, as soon as the deal was in place, and at the last minute, suddenly McMahon claimed that he could pay out the whole contract as signed, and wanted Hart to stay. However, when asked about his plans for Hart's "Hitman" character, giving McMahon an option to entice Hart with interesting story ideas, the ideas put out by Vince made it clear to Hart that he was not part of McMahon's longterm plans, and he elected to sign with WCW. At this time, Bret was still WWF World champion, having won the belt for a fifth time that August from The Undertaker.

On November 1, 1997, Hart verbally agreed a $3m a year contract with WCW. As part of his WWF contract, Hart had complete creative control over his character in the last days of his WWF tenure. Therefore, he had the final say over what he would and would not do and say.

He also had two major caveats: He would not lose his WWF World title to Shawn Michaels, and he certainly would not lose it in his home country of Canada. The legitimate backstage ill-feeling between Hart and Michaels, which had been bubbling for years, meant that neither man was willing to lose face in or out of the ring to the other, but they agreed to work together for the sake of the business. Hart and Michaels, back then, had radically different lifestyles and attitudes out of the ring and had clashed for real previously.

McMahon began seeking a way to transition the title off of Hart. Michaels was booked as the #1 contender to Hart's title in the fall of 1997 however. Of course, Hart took immediate issue with the idea that he would lose the title to Michaels, in Montreal, at the Survivor Series pay-per-view event on November 9, 1997. He did not believe that Michaels would have offered a loss in return had he stayed in the WWF, and moreover he did not want to lose to Michaels in Canada. Hart had offered to forfeit the belt, but McMahon was insistent that the belt would go to Michaels at the pay-per-view in Montreal.

McMahon tentatively agreed to end the match in Montreal with a planned disqualification finish, which would involve various cohorts of both Hart and Michaels "running in" and disrupting the match. McMahon then told Hart he could either make a live speech on the November 10, 1997 edition of Raw and then hand the belt back, or he could lose the title in a match on December 7, 1997 at the PPV scheduled for Springfield, Massachusetts. After much negotiation, Hart agreed to hand the belt back on Raw.

The setup

However, in Montreal, things went somewhat differently. Hart was deeply aware of the possibility of a last-minute change of plan behind his back, and, fearing a double-cross, he reportedly went as far as asking the match's referee Earl Hebner to swear an oath on his children's lives that he would not participate in such an incident. Hebner apparently shook on this. The match script given to Hart on the day detailed the planned disqualification finish.

During the match, Hart allowed Michaels to place him in the Sharpshooter, his famous finishing leglock hold. Michaels then gave Hart his foot to reverse the hold, but McMahon appeared at ringside and ordered the timekeeper to "Ring the fucking bell!" Hebner then signalled to the timekeeper as if Hart had submitted to the hold and Michaels was quickly awarded the match and the title as his theme music began to play. Hebner rapidly ran backstage from the ring, allegedly to a waiting car. This is a very extreme example of a screwjob (hence the term Montreal Screwjob) as well as a shoot event.

Hart was immediately outraged. He stood dazed in the ring as Michaels walked backstage to a cascade of garbage from fans, and he spat at McMahon, hitting him in the eye. He also destroyed several TV monitors at ringside before climbing the turnbuckles and signing the letters "WCW" to the rabid crowd. Backstage, after cooling off, he learned that many of the other wrestlers were outraged and were forcefully pressuring the now-in-hiding McMahon to face up to Hart. That night, Hart and McMahon had a physical confrontation in the Montreal locker rooms in which he attacked McMahon, giving him a black eye.

Legacy

In the days to follow, Hart left for WCW, and McMahon claimed he could not trust Bret with the title, fearing he would show up on the competition's TV show with the WWF World title belt. McMahon had reason to fear this; in December 1995, the WWF Women's Champion, Debra Miceli (wrestling as Alundra Blayze in WWF and Madusa elsewhere), showed up on WCW Monday Nitro with the championship belt. Miceli proceeded to throw the belt in a trash can on live TV, imitating a well-publicized act by heavyweight boxer Riddick Bowe.

Michaels, and his friend Triple H, claimed total innocence over the situation but several years later admitted that they too had been in on the fix, as had apparently everyone except Hart's family, which included fellow WWF wrestlers Owen Hart and Davey Boy Smith, and close friends present backstage.

A legacy of this incident is that at wrestling shows in Montreal (and to a lesser extent, Canada in general), chants of "You screwed Bret!" will spontaneously arise when key players in the screwjob make their appearances, particularly Hebner and Michaels. Several parodies of the event have also been booked into subsequent WWF matches, such as at the end of the following year's Survivor Series main event between The Rock and Mick Foley. Another notable play on the infamous event took place in 2002 featuring Chris Benoit being cheated out of a win on a Canada SmackDown! taping in a very similar way, except ending in a revenge attack by Benoit with the use of a steel chair.

It is important to note that some well-informed observers hold the opinion that the whole Montreal incident and its aftermath was in fact a work, not a shoot, and that Vince McMahon, Bret Hart, and Shawn Michaels all conspired to generate controversy and interest in their product by staging it. However, given the public enmity between Hart and McMahon which persisted for several years as well as Michaels' confession of his role, this seems rather unlikely.

The Montreal Screwjob was the first heavily publicised professional wrestling double-cross since Wendi Richter lost the WWF Women's Championship to a masked The Fabulous Moolah following a contract dispute on November 25, 1985.

The incident was featured in the 1998 film, Wrestling with Shadows, a documentary about Bret Hart's life as a WWF wrestler.

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